There are two things in this world MrKef cannot live without (and neither of them are me): rice and meat. He is, in general, a very cool and collected man, but put him in an eating situation without rice or meat, and you will see a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Put him at a table with neither rice NOR meat and I don’t really want to know what would happen.
So when I said I wanted to make a New Year’s Day feast, I could see the fear in his eyes: she’s not really going to make my first dinner of 2016 vegetarian and riceless, is she? I am not particularly into rice, but I once had this insanely delicious Persian rice and wanted to attempt to recreate it. A google search came up with this insane-sounding recipe from TheKitchn. For once, I have a dish as pretty as the one included in the recipe and a nice photo to prove it– thank you MsBumbleBee’sArchEnemyKef for your photography skills!
This is not your ricecooker’s recipe. Sara from TheKitchn, in all her foodblog glory, has this to say: “this is a decadent dish, both in its ingredients and in the time it takes to prepare it….for your first go, make it a celebration. Take your time, source the best ingredients, treat each step of this recipe like a precious stone.” ChefKefi, in all her food blog averageness, adds this: don’t underestimate how haggard you will look once this masterpiece is done:
The key to this dish is the orange blossom water, which makes it a sweet, aromatic dish–so don’t skip it if you’re looking for something truly unique. I found this rice interesting but not the most compelling, and kept trying to decide if it was a side or a dessert. MrKef, on the other hand, was all about this rice, and since he would be thrilled by an UNRWA ration, we can take his word and call it a rice worthy of a year’s first meal.
If you’re looking for a less sweet, potentially less lovely dish, the NYT published this very similar recipe (which has all the same components but the orange blossom water)– I’d love to hear your results. The recipe below is largely verbatim so I will once again remind you of its source: The Kitchn.
Iranian Jeweled Rice
- 3 c long-grain white basmati rice
- 2 TBS salt, divided
- peel of 2 large oranges
- 1 c whole dried barberries or chopped unsweetened dried cranberries (I used pomegranate seeds)
- 1 tsp loosely-packed saffron (I found it at Trader Joe’s)
- 1/3 c granulated sugar, divided
- 1/4 c orange blossom water, divided (interestingly, they did NOT have this at Whole Foods- I got it in the Latino section at Giant. But any Mediterranean store should have it)
- 2 TBS oil, butter or ghee
- 1/2 c sliced raw almonds
- 1/2 c chopped raw pistachios
- 1/2 c golden or green raisins
- 2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch long matchsticks (I used 1 bag of pre-shredded carrots from Trader Joe’s)
- One 4-inch whole cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
1. Wash the rice in a large container of water, swishing it around with your hand then draining off the water and repeating until the water runs clear, about five times. Cover again with water, add 2 tablespoons of the salt and soak between 2 and 24 hours. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.
2. Set a small pot of water to boil. Slice your orange peels into very small slivers. When the water is boiling, drop the slivers into the water and cook 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside. (This cuts the bitterness of the orange rind.)
3. If you’re using cranberries or pomegranate seeds, proceed to step 4. For purists using barberries: Clean the barberries by removing any stems or debris. Place them in a sieve set inside a bowl. Cover with cold water and soak for 20 minutes. Pull the sieve from the bowl and rinse under cold water to flush out any remaining sand. Set aside.
4. In a mortar and pestle (or, you know, with whatever you’ve got), crush the saffron threads with a few pinches of sugar until a powder forms. Stir in 3 tablespoons of orange blossom water and set aside.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and the pistachios, and sauté for about a minute. Add the raisins to the pan and toss with the nuts. Empty the mixture into a bowl and set aside.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons of the saffron orange blossom water mixture, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in the same skillet. Add the carrots and orange peel and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, the remaining saffron orange blossom water mixture, the cinnamon stick and the cardamom and sauté for 1 minute. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the carrots lightly caramelize and the liquid has reduced to a syrup. Drain the carrots and orange peel, and reserve the syrup.
7. In a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, bring ten cups of water to a boil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons salt, and then add the rice to the pot with the remaining 1 tablespoon plain orange blossom water. Boil briskly until the rice has risen to the surface and when bitten into, a grain of rice feels soft, 6 to 10 minutes. Drain the rice into a large fine-mesh sieve, rinse with cold water and turn it out into a bowl.
8. Gently mix the remaining saffron orange blossom water and the reserved carrot/orange syrup to the par-boiled rice. Take a large spoonful of rice at a time and gently spread it over the bottom of the pot. Give the pot a shake to even out the base. Add more spoonfuls of rice, one at a time, gradually shaping it into a pyramid. (This shape leaves room for the rice to expand and enlarge.)
9. Wrap the lid of the pot with a clean dish towel and cover firmly to prevent steam from escaping. Cook 20 minutes over low heat (I accidentally skipped the low heat part, so if you’re short on space you probably could, too).
10. To serve, arrange on a serving platter layers of rice, then the caramelized carrot mixture (discarding the cinnamon stick), then the barberry/nut mixture